Thursday, September 10, 2009

Offstage Critique on SFMOMA Blog

This text is quoted directly from the SFMOMA Open Space Blog written by Adrienne Skye Roberts Posted on September 7, 2009

"One project is particularly troubling to me. The project “Offstage” began with research into the history of the Tenderloin as a theater district and extends this history to what is described on the Wonderland blog as “the theatricality of the streets” that depicts “human drama in extremely raw form.” The artists describe the inhabitants of the Tenderloin as conducting “melodramatic behaviors common to urban vagabonds” often induced by inebriation. In order to make visual this phenomenon, as they describe it, the artists chose to abstract and replicate sleeping bag forms, to reference those without shelter in the neighborhood and will install these forms in the windows of the Golden Gate Theater located on Taylor street. In the last paragraph of the project description the artists state, “In our installation, we bring focus to the life on the streets of the Tenderloin, allowing the spectacle of the street to take center stage. Consequently, the “characters” are brought closer to the streets by featuring a “show” that is available to all pedestrians and inhabitants of the neighborhood.” In conjunction with this project description, the blog features photographs that mimic those captured by surveillance cameras—images taken from afar, without the persons awareness, and altered to highlight them through a spotlight, as though to exemplfy exactly who this cast of characters are.

It remains unclear to me how this project functions within the framework of Wonderland as a community centered project whose primary audience is intended to be residents of the Tenderloin. While the artists were apparently inspired by their observations within the neighborhood, the perspective remains that of someone outside, falling back on the assumptions often made about people who live “on the wrong side of the tracks.” All too often urban areas such as the Tenderloin are represented one-dimensionally through the lens of all that is considered dangerous and illegal. Yes, there is crime in the Tenderloin, yet there are also internal communities within these neighborhoods and systems of checks and balances that often remain unseen to those who do not live there.

The true issue that underlies the premise of “Offstage” is a city government that continues to cut funding for a population of people who are addicts and/or have mental illnesses and are in need of basic social services. So long as clinics, rehabilitation centers, and shelters continue to loose financial support, the street will remain a site in which all areas of people’s lives are made highly visible. By naming this situation as a “show” the artists of “Offstage” invite visitors to observe this “spectacle” at a distance, from the position of an audience member, a tourist passing through the neighborhood. Additionally, the aestheticization of homelessness in the form of sleeping bags ascending from a theater does little to address the “social representation and change” as the description on the blog states. How do the residents of the Tenderloin, those “urban vagabonds” described in “Offstage” benefit from such a representation?"

For full article click here.

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